Having Watched My First U.S. U-23 Game…

…and knowing said game isn’t over, here’s a couple things that come to mind:

– Tell me we don’t usually play so fitfully. A couple players have “it” – and I’ll get to that below – but the general vibe I’m getting is damned sloppy. So, tell me this is fatigue. Because, if it’s not, I fear for our future (not literally; all these players will age and, most, improve, but this was ugly…mo-fugly in some places).

I know Breton is live-blogging as we speak, so I’ll keep this brief. I didn’t watch the whole game, but, of the parts I watched, I’ll list the players who stood out – for good or for ill – below…starting with “for ill”…because I’m a bastard.

For Ill
Chad Barrett: I want to like you. Really. But how can I with all those leaden touches, mis-hit passes, and, on the one good chance I saw, limp shooting?

Sacha Kljestan: I understand you were the high-point of the Cuba game, so don’t take this personal, but…you’re passing to the guys in white, son. White jerseys. I’m only saying because you didn’t seem to know that going in.

Dominic Cervi: Not really bad, but shaky moments are shaky moments and you’ve had a couple. Maybe your central defenders played a role?

Sal Zizzo: Either he is tired tonight or 1) he’s playing miles out of position, or 2) he’s just not very good. I’m betting this is an off-night…or rather hoping. Clumsy feet, too static, mental mistakes….I could go on. Suffice to say it wasn’t his best night.

For Good
Orozco (first name, please?): I like him. He’s looking a little more composed than Patrick Ianni and comes forward smartly. Seeing how he grows seems a worthwhile experiment.

Charlie Davies: This cat got ripped after the Cuba game for diving, but he looked the most dangerous U.S. forward tonight. Too few clear chances for my liking, but he’s good enough and fast enough to make his own openings. Why isn’t he being paired with Altidore in a two-forward set-up? I mean if he loses the diving. I think we could do worse than try that experiment.

Dax McCarty: Second half sub, I know, but he’s looked the most composed and intelligent in midfield of all the U.S. players; it’s the composure that really stands out because, had he kept his shit tighter, I’d be listing Eddie Gaven here; he’s having good moments, but he’s spazzing just as often.

Kamani Hill: Good general anticipation, decent forays forward. A solid night and, for tonight, that’s enough.

Stuart Holden: All right, I’ll list him. He’s everywhere, and that’s good, but he’s a little ragged. It’s a marginal call, but he sneaks in.

That’s it. And I acknowledge that the gaps in my viewing may have caused me to put someone in the wrong spot or to omit someone else from one category or another. But, for purposes of this post, anyone not listed neither impressed or disappointed in particular.

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Eastern Conf. Final: Reputations Polished and Dented

Is that all there is? The New England Revolution beats the Chicago Fire, who beats DC United? Will it take the revival of Kansas City, or the arrival of Red Bull New York, or – god forbid – the Columbus Crew to confound this predictable procession? Lord, I hope not, because the status quo sure looks set to hold for a damned long while.

Not that I’m complaining – writing, after all, as a Revs fan – or not that I don’t think New England deserved to win. Truth be told, the Revs played as well last night as they have all year, smartly ceding possession to Chicago where it couldn’t hurt them and clamping down like a pit bull where it mattered on defense and creating space and possession in the attacking third. If there’s a complaint to level against them, it’s that they were a little slow to fire into half-openings; worse, when gifted a couple glorious openings, key, veteran players – Steve Ralston and Shalrie Joseph – fired embarrassingly high and appallingly wide.

Of course, the offense – or, rather, Taylor Twellman – got it together the one time required, scoring off a bicycle kick that, even in real time, somehow developed in slow-motion; with the ball arching in the cold air, Twellman squared his body with his back to the goal, while Dasan Robinson and (was it?) C. J. Brown quickly closed the space until there was nothing much wider than a foot’s width opening through which to strike. Twellman’s foot squeezed through, the ball bounced into the corner of Matt Pickens’ goal, and that, though we sensed it more than knew it at the time, was the end. From there, the entire team scrapped all over the field to make that lone goal stand up.

In fact, the Revolution looked more like scoring a second than Chicago looked like scoring a first. What Chicago didn’t miss, Matt Reis swallowed up. Worse, things too rarely reached that point. Chicago’s forwards struggled in particular: Chad Barrett by bolting aimlessly around and Paulo Wanchope by lumbering a step or two behind every play. New England shut off supply by shutting down Blanco and Rolfe, the latter of whom the Revs abused just shy of illegality. Referee Kevin Stott admirably let the teams play, but, in what had to be one of the greater surprises of the night, both teams played a fairly clean game, leaving Stott little cause to wave around cards; maybe yellow card trouble isn’t always a bad thing.

For my money, two things, one avoidable, the other not, sunk Chicago. First, the unavoidable piece: their most effective players on the night – Gonzalo Segares and Wilman Conde – played too far back and had too many defensive responsibilities to help with the attack. As for the avoidable, that came with choices of personnel and substitution: subbing Barrett, whose sheer effort may have produced something eventually, didn’t add up, nor did introducing Calen Carr with only minutes remaining. But, to return to something I commented on last night, the biggest problem came in the personnel department: starting Wanchope can be excused, but leaving him on at least 45 minutes too long cannot. And, of course, Justin Mapp finally came on the field for the Fire, but a visible disconnect between him and the rest of the team came with him. Continue reading

New England v. Chicago Preview (All Right, All Right; I’ll Do It)

I’m about to do something I almost never do: preview a game, namely, the Eastern Conference Final pitting the New England Revolution against the Chicago Fire. For the record, I blame the quality stuff other people are turning out. Even MLSnet.com’s typically tepid preview contains a vital information-nugget: Shalrie Joseph will have to sit out the final if he picks up a yellow in the semifinal. That’s pretty big, bigger than Taylor Twellman being in the same situation to be sure. I also learned that Kevin Stott will officiate…though I can’t remember whether I have an opinion on him or not.

Before getting to my thoughts, here are the other “inspirations” that got me thinking too much about tomorrow night’s game. Ives Galarcep turned in pre-game analysis for ESPN that hits plenty of useful highlights, most notably the potentially defining match-up between Joseph and Cuauhtemoc Blanco – more on this later from me. A couple people took up the rivalry thing: Blue Blooded Journo conducted a Q & A with himself in which he looks into everything from Chicago’s fans to the horror that is Blanco’s face…Chicago fans may want to skip that one. Finally, even though Luis Arroyave failed to get “bulletin board material” out of either side of the rivalry, he passed on an absolutely brilliant alleged quote from Clint Dempsey:

Just last year, a scuffle nearly broke out in the Toyota Park tunnel with Fire defender Gonzalo Segares and ex-Revolution midfielder Clint Dempsey. Sources said Dempsey yelled ‘I don’t care–take me to jail’ as teammates tried to restrain him.”

I’ll be asking for a t-shirt for Christmas, along with another inspired by Britney Spears (credit to Ann Romano from the Portland Mercury): “Rehab Is Hard Y’all.”

Now, for my look ahead to Those Things That Will Loom Large in tomorrow night’s game. Continue reading

Daily Sweeper, 11.2: MLS Playoffs, Past and Future + Enough Crap to Fill 10 Outhouses

– Before looking backward, let’s take a glance forward. I’ve got my picks laid out, but here’s what people have to say about this weekend’s conference semis – all except that one no one seems to care about. Shhh….

New England Revolution v. Red Bull New York
Now that I think about it, I didn’t see – or rather, I didn’t read – a lot of copy on this one. But the unpaid interns (they just have to be, right?) at MLSnet.com turned in their preview. Elsewhere, Clemente Lisi wrote a bolder preview for USSoccerplayas.com framed around the possibility that Gillette Stadium might be the Last Chance Saloon for Red Bull’s coach Bruce Arena. I don’t know about that – I bet The Bruce gets another year regardless – but Lisi does well enumerating the man’s sins.

Houston Dynamo v. FC Dallas
I’ll start by confessing that I rarely want to lose bets, never mind badly. C’mon Dallas: prove me wrong.

Previews abound for this one, but you can find most of what you want to read on tonight’s game in 3rd Degree’s daily round-up. Time’s short, though, so get cracking. But MLS’s interns did their bit, as did Goal.com, and Yahoo! News.

If gambling were legal in this damnable country, I’d be running an over-under for how quickly Dallas succumbs.

– Now to look back. I posted my piece last night – an ode to Clyde Simms as it turned out. It’s funny, though: I’m able to celebrate this game and DC’s part in it, but that’s down to a coincidence that I caught them after they woke up. From what I’ve read, my thoughts would have been vastly different had I caught the first half.

Moving on to what other’s thought, this one got picked apart – and, this time ‘round, I’ll take a broader view (e.g I won’t essentially ignore Chicago). To follow up on that aside, I’m going to lead with Chicago. Continue reading

DC Goes Home: Thank You, Mr Simms.

A lot happened in the final 30 of the Chicago Fire’s tighter-than-a-preacher’s-butt win over DC United – as much as the game as I caught after getting home from work, picking up the kids, feeding the kids, etc. While that shortened viewing time limits my ability to speak to big concepts like Justice (upper-case? oh yeah), I can at least speak to the Justice of the last 30.On that score, it’s a wash: referee Jair Marrufo didn’t call a penalty when DC ‘keep Troy Perkins fouled Calen Carr just inside DC’s area, but he also caught a tricky one when Christian Gomez nudged the ball with his left arm with what, for all the world, looked like the DC’s series equalizer. As for the rest, Marrufo might have missed some calls against Cuauhtemoc Blanco – though that serves the bastard right for going down easy as he does often as he does – and he overreacted by sending off Rod Dyachenko at the death, but, fortunately, the ref didn’t turn this game in a meaningful way…at least not that I saw.

But the really amazing thing about this one was the 180 change in tone from the time I started watching to the end of the game. When I tuned in, DC’s body language whimpered “beaten.” The thing of beauty that Clyde Simms knocked into Chicago’s net more than changed the mood, it reminded DC of who they were: the best team in Major League Soccer. From that goal forward, DC piled on 20 minutes of non-stop hurt and pressure – until they finally, and almost invisibly, petered out somewhere between the 88th and 92nd minute. The way I figure it, Clyde Simms’ teammates owe him a pint for every minute of that short life.

Fluky as DC’s in-game equalizer proved to be, the moment I thought they’d clawed back came with a gorgeous one-two that played Christian Gomez in on Chicago’s left; with him behind the defense and a tie on the aggregate seemingly seconds away, it looked like overtime at least. Instead, things wound up as it seemed they would when Chicago was up three goals on aggregate.

Getting back to the notion of what turned this game, I did see something in the highlights from before I tuned in: what looked an awful lot like the wrenching defensive lapses that have killed DC United time and again. As well as Chad Barrett and Chris Rolfe took their goals, the shitty thing for DC fans is that both players barreled into the area facing goal and with no one on their backs. It’s like the definition of insanity, those lapses, and I can’t believe that DC won’t focus on correcting the defensive problem between now and the 2008 season instead of, again, bringing in still more offensive ringers. The latter look prettier, but the defensive problem is like a cancer.

Over the course of the season, I’ve seen the notion that there are no moral victories pop up a couple times on DC fan sites. I suspect we’ll see some of that tonight and tomorrow. Even if I wasn’t pulling for DC (no, not remotely), their team turned in something special tonight, the kind of passion on the field that keeps all of us watching the game. I don’t so much expect DC fans to find solace in that, as I would hope they’d appreciate the pride their team showed in fighting back from what looked a lot like a state of beat-down death.

As for Chicago, who I managed to almost completely ignore in this narrative (so what? they’ll be back), I’m guessing they’re looking at each other in the locker room right around now and, with a quick exchange of glances, acknowledging they just walked out of a war zone. They don’t get closer than tonight very often. Matt Perkins, among others, won’t sleep soundly tonight.

Fire 1-0 DC: Rugby Meets Soccer

At its worst, last night’s Eastern Conference semifinal between DC United and the Chicago Fire looked like a pugnacious midfield scrum in which every ball seemed 50-50, not unlike an endless series of drop-balls put in play by an angry god. Think a lower-tier game in the English Premier League, but without the skill. At its best, the game pitted a DC team moving the ball slickly up to Chicago’s attacking third against a Fire team hunting for DC’s defensive mistakes.

The final score – 1-0 to Chicago – signals one successful kill, but the echoes from a couple other shots were heard around Bridgeview.

Call ‘keeper Troy Perkins DC’s man of the match. His defense left him for dead on the goal, but he saved two other dead-certain goals at least, most notably his brave challenge when Calen Carr broke through late. Given the way DC essentially controlled two-thirds of the field, that one goal disadvantage keeps them well within the margin for recovery for the home leg; emphasis belongs on the word “essentially,” though, because the brittleness of Black and Red’s defense wound up gifting Chicago more clear-cut chances than DC created at the other end. That’s a worrying sign because those breaks came under minimal pressure.

Against that, Chicago’s advantage doesn’t feel all that safe. Their collective struggle to generally connect left them facing relentless pressure, too often close to their own goal. To their credit, though, they limited DC’s chances to a near-range header here (Christian Gomez should have done better) to long-range efforts there; Fred took a number of these and Ben Olsen lashed in low crosses from the right, but neither approach really threatened Matt Pickens’ goal. DC had the rhythm, while Chicago’s rare moments came from smart dribbles out of danger by Wilman Conde, Chad Barrett’s energetic chasing, and Chris Rolfe’s tight control. Speaking of Barrett, losing him for the second game strikes me as a significant loss; who can see Paulo Wanchope causing the stir Barrett did in DC’s back line?

It says plenty about this game that Chicago looked the more menacing side in spite of being hemmed in for long stretches. The rare occasion when things opened up in front of goal, it happened in front of Perkins; when DC reached the Fire’s defensive third, players in red shirts looked so thick on the ground one might think the Fire fielded 15 defenders; Dasan Robinson, in particular, played like two men. And he had to due to Chicago’s repeated problems with playing out of the back.

The second leg should look roughly the same – a somewhat dreary notion that we should all hope doesn’t pan out. About the only escape from a second game of rugby posing as soccer (or is it soccer posing as rugby?) comes with DC scoring – and more than once. I don’t see Chicago leaving its shell for anything less than two unanswered goals. But if the second leg winds up fighting last night’s war a second time, that’s fine too; last night made up in tension what it lacked in grace.

The weekend should be good.

I don’t know how many DC or Chicago fans visit this site, but I’m curious as to how last night’s game looked to you. What do expect for the second leg? Are you approaching with a knot in the stomach or the sun on your back?

MLS: Week of Good, Week of Evil and the Schedule Ahead

The part of Week 27 that mattered ended with Los Angeles rolling to another win (psst…Colorado beat Toronto…no, I don’t care either).  That damnable pack of revenants keeps shuffling and scratching on some unholy quest to, once again, mock the regular season.  If a simple demonstration of the stupidity of it all WAS the mission, I could get behind it.  But we all know it’s a simple selfish quest for undeserved glory and, seeing as we’re dealing with the undead, probably brains.  I keep telling these fucking twits, the head!  Shoot for the goddamn head!  That’s the only way to bring them down.

I didn’t see that game, in any case…stupid Telefutura…only reminds me of my linguistic limitations…

No, I witnessed other games – among them, an indirect, rear-guard sally to stave off the walking dead (maybe the plan is to corral them into a valley and raze it with fire; hadn’t considered that).  Even with my love for New England returning to its steady psychotic girlfriend/controlling boyfriend state, too much good comes from the Chicago Fire’s win over them for me to care.  On the downside, other teams just might take note of the way, first, Chad Barrett, then Cuauhtemoc Blanco kept finding space wide of the Revs’ back three; a better player than Barrett, or one less tanked than Blanco, could have helped that 2-1 win into a bloody rout, but Barrett was good enough for man of the match honors and the blows landed all the same.  Even allowing for fatigue and acknowledging a hard-fought game from both sides, if I had to face one of them just now, it would be New England. Continue reading